Practicing Law Is a Fast-Paced, Rewarding and Time-Consuming Career
If you're looking for a career that is both challenging and rewarding, practicing law could be it. However, it's not easy to complete the required education or work your way up the ladder to become a successful attorney, particularly if you're raising a family at the same time. Before you take the leap in applying for law school, learn more about what will be expected of you once you've passed the bar.
Lawyers function more as advocates and advisers while working with clients, by representing them in trials and by offering advice about clients' legal rights and requirements. An attorney must understand the law inside and out and suggest how a client should proceed in the face of those laws. Lawyers often specialize in a particular field, such as the environment, taxes, family law or intellectual property.
Being an attorney requires four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years of law school from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association. Before being accepted to law school, an applicant must take the Law School Admission Test, more commonly known as the LSAT. Graduation from law school confers the Juris Doctor (J.D.) designation.
That's not all, though. A potential lawyer must then pass a bar exam to receive a license to practice. Each state has its own bar that lawyers must be admitted to before being allowed to practice there. If a lawyer wants to practice in two or more states, she must be admitted to the bar in each of the states.
About the Industry
Nearly half of all lawyers work for legal services companies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 20 percent are self-employed, and another 18 percent work for local, state or national government offices. For example, prosecutors working for the government file lawsuits against persons or companies that allegedly broke the law, while public defense attorneys defend individuals who cannot afford to hire private lawyers.
Some attorneys work as government counsels, meaning they write or interpret laws and create procedures to enforce them. Government counsels also argue cases, whether civil or criminal, for the government. Corporate counsels are attorneys who work for corporations, while public interest lawyers work for private, nonprofit organizations that represent those who cannot afford legal representation in civil matters, such as wage disputes or job discrimination.
Working as a lawyer requires commitment to the job and clients' interests. According to the BLS, the majority of lawyers work full-time, often more than 40 hours a week.
Years of Experience
New lawyers often work as associate lawyers, which are like junior lawyers, on teams with higher-level attorneys. As a lawyer gains experience, he might become an in-house or corporate counsel or begin his own law firm. Some experienced attorneys become partners in another law firm, which means that they partially own that firm.
Salaries for lawyers range from $56,910 to $208,000, according to the BLS. The median annual wage for lawyers overall in May 2016 was $118,160, while those who work for the federal government earned a median wage of $139,460. The BLS notes that attorneys who open their own practices typically earn a lower salary than those who work for other people.
Job Growth Trend
Despite a need for attorneys, it's a competitive field because more students graduate from law school each year than there are number of jobs to fill. The BLS estimates that attorney employment will grow approximately 8 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park. She has a long career in print and web media, including serving as a managing editor for a monthly nutrition magazine and food editor for a Maryland lifestyle publication. She also owns an Etsy shop selling custom invitations and prints.